25 August 2016

Namibia: Ombudsman Wades Into Vaccine Deaths Case

OMBUDSMAN John Walters says he will work with the Legal Assistance Centre on the vaccine deaths case against the health ministry.

Walters told The Namibian on Monday that he will assist the LAC if they gather all the facts and have a watertight case to present."The Ombudsman cannot go blindfolded into the matter. We will separate emotion from objectivity. At this stage, we are gathering all the information to see if we can take government to court. Families want justice," he said.

Seven parents have approached the LAC for help to sue the health ministry for alleged vaccines deaths dating back to 2014.

Four of these parents claim that the children died after receiving vaccines which are normally administered to six and 12-week old babies.

One case is from the recently ended measles/rubella vaccination exercise carried out by the health ministry countrywide.

The LAC has, however, said they will go ahead with the case once they have gathered all the facts and evidence.

In an email sent to The Namibian on Tuesday, LAC said they are basing their case on the fact that none of the children were reported sick before the vaccination, but became sick and died afterwards.

"One of the most common aspects of all deaths is that the children were bleeding, and this is confirmed by post-mortem reports in possession of the LAC," the email said.

The Namibian understands that the Legal Assistance Centre also wrote to the health ministry at the end of July, asking that all vaccinations be stopped immediately, pending proper investigations.

Furthermore, the LAC advised the ministry to put protocols in place to deal with the possibility that the vaccines could cause illness, and prepare for children adversely affected.

The organisation said they pointed out to the ministry that there appeared to be a strong correlation between infant deaths and the vaccines.

While health minister Bernard Haufiku and his ministry's permanent secretary, Andreas Mwoombola, have not responded to questions from The Namibian, doctor Yury Vasin, who carried out post-mortems on some of the children in Windhoek, said early this month that the rate at which the babies were dying from vaccination-related deaths was unacceptably high.

Although Haufiku has denied that the vaccines cause death, he, however, told the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation that they were investigating only three deaths with the World Health Organisation's help.

In advertisements place with various print media this week, the health ministry said the measles vaccine causes one serious problem in a million cases.

The WHO's representative to Namibia Monir Islam said they had been asked to help with two cases, and not three.

Islam also said their global monitoring system has not recorded any vaccine-related deaths.

"There is absolutely no trend like that in Namibia. I can put my foot down and tell you. We have been here before and after independence," Islam said, adding that if at all the vaccines cause death, such cases are one in a million.

Islam said the intended court case over the alleged vaccine deaths was a matter between the health ministry and the LAC since the WHO trains and informs healthcare providers on the vaccine protocols, and on who should be vaccinated and who should not.

"The WHO has nothing to say, but I will ask you and the general population, if you do not vaccinate and a child or elderly person dies because of misinformation and misconceptions, will you take the responsibility for that death?" he asked.

Harare-based WHO vaccines consultant Jain Sujeet, who is in Namibia to assist with investigations, said one of the infant deaths reportedly linked to the measles and rubella vaccination might be a result of bacterial meningitis.

"I am contrasting against the post-mortem report. I do not think the report says it is vaccination-related," he stated.

Sujeet said the measles and rubella vaccines are of the safest, and had been used for decades all over the world, although there are minor side-effects.

He also said there may be pain after the vaccination that may last for one or two days in some infants, with 5% to 10 % getting a fever six days after the vaccine, which lasts for one to two days. Others, Sujeet said, may have rashes, which also disappear within a day or two.

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